BCHGS offers books sharing history,

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 11, 2007

heritage of county

By Angie Long

It's been said we can understand better where we are headed if we know where we came from.

For 40-plus years, the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society (BCHGS) has assisted citizens from near and far who want to dig deeper and learn more about their family tree and the history of the county.

Visitors are welcome to come to the society's research room, located inside the Greenville-Butler County Public Library. Here can be found a vast number of journals, books, maps and photographs donated by members, enough to easily distract a history lover/genealogist for hours.

Librarian Judy Taylor of Greenville is on hand each Tuesday at the research room.

This county historian and genealogist is herself a treasure trove of information on the people and places of Butler County.

 Each quarter, a magazine is produced by the society featuring articles on the history of families, churches, communities, schools and businesses from across Butler County, stories that help preserve the customs and culture of days gone by.

Books to educate and inspire

The BCHGS also distributes historical books, including its latest publication, &#8220Annie Laurie's PeopleŠA Hundred Years of Duty and Service in Greenville, Alabama.” The work, edited by Butler County native, the late Dr. William Frazer, and completed by his brother, Nimrod &#8220Rod” Frazer, is actually two volumes, one focusing on &#8220Family Matters,” and the other, on &#8220Military Matters.”

Rod Frazer shared stories from the two volumes with his audience at the Veterans Day ceremony sponsored by the BCHGS in 2006, and later signed copies of the books for readers.

Frazer spoke of how inspired he was by the stories of his extended family collected by his late brother, intended as an homage to Greenville and Butler County. The two volumes pay tribute to the men and women who served their nation overseas and at home, to all those who built businesses and communities and raised families.

&#8220More than anything, this book is about mothers and their power in shaping families,” Frazer said in the preamble to the book.

A song for Annie Laurie

And just who is &#8220Annie Laurie?” There have been a string of Annie Lauries in the Frazer family, but the very first one appears to be the grandmother of Will and Rod Frazer, Annie Laurie Riley Frazer Rouse. The Frazers share her story in &#8220Family Matters.”

Born shortly before the Civil War in Perote (near Union Springs), and originally named Alice Lowery Riley, the little girl didn't meet her father until 1865. 

Robert Riley, Confederate soldier and prisoner of war, finally returned from the hardships and horrors of war to meet his little dark-haired girl.

Captain Riley fondly recalled a favorite campfire song, the lilting &#8220Annie Laurie,” and soon, his young daughter had taken on a new name.

Annie Laurie's life was not an easy one. She lost her father when she was just eleven, and was widowed and left with six children at age 39. It was then her life in Greenville began, as she moved her fatherless children to a house on Dunklin Street at the urging of her brother-in-law, William J. Beeland. At the big house, Annie Laurie took in boarders, one of the few respectable ways a widow could bring in an income.

Papa Dan and Miss Laurie

One of those boarders, a gentleman farmer and widower named Dan Rouse, began courting the widow, resulting in what a granddaughter, Laurie Frazer Key, deemed an agreeable &#8220marriage of convenience.”

The good-natured &#8220Papa Dan,” as he was known, was a colorful character described &#8220as the laziest man I ever knew” by Park Smith Jr. and &#8220a sharp old boy” by Robert Frazer.

While Annie Laurie had renewed stability and security following her second marriage, heartache still followed her.

Within the next 20 years, Annie Laurie lost four of her six children, along with a beloved grandchild, Frances, who died of pneumonia at 16.  Dan lost his family farm during the early days of the Great Depression and passed away in 1932.

Her religious faith and devotion to the Methodist Church likely helped sustain Annie Laurie through her 82 years of life. Grandson Rod Frazer recalls a &#8220diminutive but resilient woman” who dressed from head to toe in black; a woman who knew little of education but was still &#8220the soul of gentility.”

&#8220Family Matters” also pays homage to Will and Rod's mother, Margaret &#8220Chinkie” Thompson, a pretty and charming flapper from Montgomery. Unhappy with her husband's fondness for drink and inattentiveness to business, Will and Chinkie separated and later divorced in 1937.

The more free-spirited Chinkie was quite different from their stern grandmother, but proved a formidable woman in her own right.

&#8220Though my brother and I were often separated from our mother, there was never any question we would somehow get educated. Anything else would not be acceptable to her and she would not be denied,” Rod Frazer recalls.

&#8220Chinkie drummed respect of family into usŠwe reflected Grandmother's influence and Chinkie's. Both would be proud.”

Serving with pride

Frazer's book, &#8220Military Matters,” chronicles the military contributions of his extended family and details their military campaigns.

Annie Laurie's father, Robert Riley, served during the entire Civil War, rapidly rising in ranks from private to captain and only returning home after the surrender of the Confederacy.

The suffering endured by prisoners of war during that conflict is depicted in a narrative authored by Henry Shepherd, relating what he &#8220saw and heard, not what I received upon testimony.”

Limited, often rancid rations that kept the men at starvation level; winter snows beating against bunks with &#8220pitiless severity,” the sick and wounded given no special provision for their comfort: all were part of the Confederate prisoners' experiences.

Alabama's 167th Infantry Regiment served with distinction from 1916-1919, and one its soldiers was Will Frazer, son of Annie Laurie and father to Will and Rod.

Frazer was hospitalized on the outskirts of Paris the day before the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918. He got out of bed as soon as the rumors of the armistice spread.

On returning to the U.S., hundreds of thousands of flowers rained down on the victorious troops the following May as they marched under the Victory Arch on Commerce St. in Montgomery and then to the Capitol under another arch over Dexter Avenue.

Other servicemen whose records are chronicled in &#8220Military Matters” include John Andrew Minnis, who served with distinction in WW I and died tragically in a plane crash a few years later; Tommy McGeehee, a much-decorated B-17 pilot in WW II who achieved the rank of one-star Air Force general, and Rod Frazer's own accounting of his harrowing experiences during the Korean War.

The two books, &#8220Family Matters” and &#8220Military Matters” are illustrated with vintage photos, maps, charts, news clippings and more. They also include a CD of the song &#8220Annie Laurie” by Bobbie Horton and a fold-out genealogical chart.

&#8220‘Annie Laurie's People' isn't a single story; it's many stories,” says Annie Crenshaw of the BCGHS.

You can read about Butler

County's cotton gins and saw mills, pressing clubs and prohibition days and so much more. It's a book to read, browse, share and appreciate.”